A certain blogger claims that

[if you] Work a shitty job, it builds character [nonetheless].

I'm curious if there are any academic studies relating to this issue. Of course one needs to consider the definition of job carefully in this case: does prostitution count for instance (it's legal in some countries), or does drug dealing, i.e. are we talking about income, legal income or just doing work; what if it's unpaid work, e.g. volunteering? It would be really nice if some study went to such extents to distinguish between these in relation to the outcome..., but I'll settle for more generic descriptions of "job".

Also one would have consider what exactly "build character" translates into (psychologically speaking)... enhancing self-esteem, or something else I haven't thought of just yet. But I'll leave this aspect fairly open as well.

  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of generalisations within this question which needs tightening up for it to work for this site. For example, you generalised by saying that prostitution could be classed as a "sh@**y job"? But there are some prostitutes who have been quoted to see it as a worthwhile job. Plus leaving the definition of character building open is not conducive to science. What is the definition you feel fits your requirements for an answer? $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers May 16 '18 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ Just to verify, you are still focusing on "shitty" jobs, right? Since "Work a shitty job, it builds character" is an entirely different statement than "Work a job, it builds character". It also does not really mention a time frame, which seems essential here. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Jun 14 '18 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ A "job" working for the Mafia is likely to destroy any character you have left. $\endgroup$ – Tom Au Jul 26 '18 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ Just noting that the open-ended nature of this question is inviting opinion-based answers, so I've protected it for now. I recommend editing it to ask for something more specific, otherwise it may need to be closed. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Mar 18 at 20:55

I suppose much depends on what one means by "building character"; if it's increasing self-esteem, then the answer is probably no, as you've already pointed out. But I don't think that's what most people mean by building character. So what is it? Certainly you'll learn something from having a demeaning job, because you'll learn something from just about anything; also, it is likely to lower your expectations, so you might be more excited about any given other job and value the money you earn more (see for example this article). So it's probably possible to adjust the definition of "building character" until it's mostly true. But after twisting the definition too far, it's unclear that "building character" is a desirable thing to do, so it doesn't offer much in the way of advice for life.

Incidentally, it has been argued that most work in the US is actually fulfilling.

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I'll gladly accept a more elaborate answer, but on a quick search I found a news release for study titled:

Lousy jobs hurt your health by the time you’re in your 40s

And it's referring to mental health mostly. The data/sample is from a longitudinal study of 6,300 Americans (NLSY79). And the study's finding are that job dissatisfaction correlated pretty strongly with poor[er] mental health outcomes on five separate measures: depression, sleep problems, excessive worry, being diagnosed with emotional problems, and overall test of mental health.

So it looks like in this case "building character" by taking a "shitty job" translates to mental health problems being built... although one has to be a little concerned with reading causation where it might be just correlation. After all, job dissatisfaction might stem from the same genes that make one prone to depression. I'm not sure this study succeeded in separating cause from effect...

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  • $\begingroup$ Your link to the NLS goes to Wikipedia. Where can we read the NLS? What is its title? What year?.... $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers May 16 '18 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Fizz - if you think your answer is the answer, please accept it so that other folks know it's helpful to you. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Jun 14 '18 at 11:53

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